Who Am I, Really??

For a writing assignment, I have been studying “theological anthropology.” The psalmist asked, “…what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” (Ps 8:4b).  Indeed, what are human beings? A complex topic, anthropology is the foundation of what we believe about ourselves as people designed and created by the God of the universe. There are many modes of study by people in an attempt to answer questions about people, including fields of psychology, philosophy, cognitive science, neuroscience, sociology, biology, genetics, ethics and theology.

In addition, a recent discussion has been opened by the media about human identity: “what is a woman?” I can add, “what is a man?” Why are we making something that appears to be so straight-forward so very complicated?  Can a man become a woman, or can a woman become a man?  What is gender, and does a change of physicality in a human change the whole, complete person?

Since the time of Plato, the theory has been that human beings are made of two parts, the body and the spirit (or soul). Yes, there is a physical body, but we perceive that there is more to us that is immaterial and intangible: thoughts, feelings, emotions, wills. The 17th century philosopher and scientist Descartes suggested that the person is primarily a mind, in a material body. Hence, we have a “mind/matter” debate that still continues. Commonly, it was believed that the when the physical body died, the “soul” separated and went to heaven – or to that other place. The separation of the body and spirit has been taught and assumed for generations.

Yet, biblically, we read nothing that demands anything except the complete, integrated person. Human beings are created with a body and a spirit – both – just like arms and legs, muscles and sinews. God created humanity ex nihilo, “out of nothing,” with a body that is appropriate for living in a world that he created. God also created animals and other creatures in the same manner (Genesis 2:19). However, only human beings are made “in the image and likeness” of God himself (Gen 1:26-27; see Colossians 1:15-16). Since God is Spirit and not material, only the human being is both body and spirit. Humanity is the capstone of all of his creation, and in the shadow of God himself, all people have inherent dignity and value. But something happened that marred the image of the human being; given a choice, human creatures can choose to reject God, to follow their own selfish desires, and as a result, we can really mess up a good thing.  

The Apostle Paul wrote about two aspects of the human being, as “flesh” and “spirit” (see, for example, Galatians 5:13-26). But his instructions are more of a contrast of human conduct and attitudes than an actual, material division of the person. Within us, the spirit fights with the body and other external pressures (like gluttony and greed). In the present, the “whole of creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth” (Romans 8:22). Life is a mess; culture is corrupt; the world is manipulative and deceptive. The world puts too much emphasis on the outward, physical body, and not enough emphasis on the immaterial spirit/soul part which is what connects us to God. That self-centered focus can injure our view of others and of ourselves. The media pushes cosmetics, physical fitness, drugs and body treatments, and various healthy diets, none of which may be bad in and of themselves. But we can become obsessed with our physical “muscles” and forget about our spiritual “flabbiness.” We incorrectly judge others by their skin color, or weight, or hair, or tattoos, or other “outward” appearances. And often we judge ourselves too severely based on exterior comparisons. Thankfully, God chose not to leave humanity in this condition.

This is biblical “salvation” – that the whole person, body and soul, with the whole corrupt cosmos, will one day be renewed and redeemed by God through his Son, Jesus Christ. Indeed, we cannot “save” ourselves; destruction to the body is destruction to the soul and vice versa.  Only God, through Christ, can save the whole human being. “We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies” (Ro 8:23). Someday, we will be fully redeemed, completely changed, transformed, with new bodies, and our spirits will be changed and filled by the Holy Spirit, and we will be “like him” (see Ro 6:5-14).  This is the only way that fallible human beings can live eternally with a holy, righteous God.

How do we answer our deepest questions about ourselves – on the temporary “outside,” about our gender, our physical appearance, our limitations and frailty, death and destruction — and on the permanent “inside,” about our true character, our true identity, uniqueness, and our eternal spirits?  Do you think about these things? Who did God make you to be, and what is your purpose for being on this earth?  The more I know about God, the less I question who I am. I don’t have to apologize or justify who I am to others, or try to change who he made me to be.  I am blessed to be a woman, and a daughter of the King, who loves me and gave himself for me. Amen.

Author: Judy

Christian educator, writer, specializing in the New Testament

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